[HOWTO] Upgrade Your Old, Slow Computer (and when you shouldn't)
Is your aging computer struggling to keep up with the latest apps and modern operating systems? Maybe it's bogged down with the weight of cosmic computer crud that's built up over the years. Should you junk it and buy a new one, or upgrade its hardware? The answer is highly dependent upon your specific circumstances. Here are my tips and guidelines for making that decision, and some Windows 11 considerations too...
Should You Upgrade That Old Computer?
First, ask yourself if your computer is too slow for you, or for someone else. Did you think, “Gee, my computer is slow” before your friend with the brand new computer said, “Gee, your computer is slow!”? If you’re getting done all you want to get done, and fast enough for you, you may not need to upgrade. But if you're not satisfied, read on!
Some upgrades do help you get more work done faster, while others just make work more pleasant for you. A bigger monitor may be just what your tired, watery eyes need. A more ergonomic keyboard or mouse is another comfort upgrade; not that comfort doesn’t improve performance, but it’s mainly the comfort that counts. Twenty years ago, I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. My doctor suggested both drugs and surgery, but switching to an ergonomic keyboard with the split/curved key layout completely eliminated my pain. When I type on a "regular" keyboard (the cheap, rectangular ones that usually come with new computers) I feel that familar wrist pain again.
Upgrading a monitor is a significant investment. But if you're often using two programs at once, or find your limited screen real estate is slowing you down (switching from one app to another, or always scrolling), a larger, higher resolution monitor may be a good investment. But you should also consider ADDING a monitor. Check out my article Dual Monitors: Good Reasons to Upgrade and consider the potential benefits of adding a second screen to your desktop setup.
I was recently diagnosed with a retina problem that makes it harder for me to see my computer screen. Having two 24-inch monitors side-by-side allows me to increase font sizes as needed so I can manage better.
Amazon has a selection of 24-inch computer monitors (rated 4-stars or higher) starting at $89. This Sceptre 24-inch IPS Monitor has both HDMI and VGA Ports, Full HD resolution, built-in speakers, and tiltable stand. If you want something larger, this ViewSonic 32-Inch 32 Inch 1080p Frameless Widescreen IPS Monitor is available for $195 with free shipping. Two of those would make an awesome dual-monitor setup!
Keep in mind that you may need a better graphics card to match the ports and capabilities of a modern monitor, or a dual-monitor setup. A dedicated graphics card can take some computing burden off your CPU, making actual computation faster; but the increase in CPU performance won’t be very large.
Upgrading Memory and Hard Drive
More RAM memory provides significant performance boosts at reasonable cost, up to a point. If you have too little RAM for the types of applications and the size of data files that you use, a lot of time and CPU power is wasted swapping data from RAM to disk and back again in “pages.” On the other hand, excess RAM just sits there idle, a waste of money that makes no discernible difference in performance.
A rule of thumb is that general home users need a minimum of 4 GB of RAM; business and power users, 8 GB or more; and only the busiest video editors, database administrators, or gamers need 16+ GB of RAM. But modern versions of Windows can work with up to 2 TB (terabytes) of RAM memory. The operating system you have is very important when considering buying RAM. 8GB of RAM memory can cost as little as $15. See my article Will More Memory Speed Up Your Computer? for more tips on upgrading your system's RAM memory.
Increasing the size, thoughput and access speed of hard drive storage is a tempting upgrade option. A traditional magnetic hard drive that spins at 7200 rpm is much better than one spinning at 5400 rpm. Solid-State Drives (SSDs) are faster, but they are more expensive compared to magnetic hard drives. But here's something to consider… right now, a 1 terabyte (1000 gigabytes) magnetic hard drive costs about the same as a 256 GB SSD drive -- roughly US$40. But if you've only got 100 GB of data, the SSD is obviously a better buy, even though it holds about one fourth as much data.
If you're thinking about a new hard drive because you're running out of space to stash your stuff, first try a little spring cleaning, and see how many gigabytes of garbage you can get rid of. Unwanted software, temp files, an old operating system, and duplicate files can chew up a lot of space. A careful pruning of music, photos, and video files may yield big gains as well. See Free Tools to Tune and Optimize Your Hard Drive for more tips and free software you can use to get the job done.
A word about Windows 11 seems appropriate here. You're probably aware by now that Microsoft has released Windows 11, but there has been much confusion about the hardware specs required to run the newest version of the Windows operating system. The short answer is if your computer is more than three years old, it probably won't make the cut. To run Windows 11, your PC must have the Secure Boot feature, a TPM 2.0 chip, and an 8th-generation or newer Intel CPU (or certain AMD Ryzen processors). That's geeky, I know, but you can run the Microsoft PC Health Check App to find out if your PC is compatible.
So here's my advice for Windows 10 users: If you're thinking about a new computer, it will come with Windows 11, so on the hardware front you're covered. If your computer doesn't have all the bells and whistles required to run Windows 11, you're really not missing much. Windows 10 will continue to run just fine on your current PC, and is supported through October 2025.
Deciding whether to upgrade or buy a new machine can be difficult. But doing the actual upgrades requires only a screwdriver and a little gumption. If you are comfortable installing upgrades yourself, just add up the costs of planned upgrades and compare it to the price of new machines. But that simple cost analysis ignores half the cost/benefit ratio. You really don’t know how well an upgraded computer will perform until after you buy and install the upgrade(s), so it’s impossible to compare it to a new machine.
Generally, I would buy new rather than spend more than a third of new’s cost on upgrades. What upgrades have you done on your computer? Are you glad you did? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 28 Jun 2023
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- [HOWTO] Upgrade Your Old, Slow Computer (and when you shouldn't) (Posted: 28 Jun 2023)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved